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COVID-19: China steps in to help Italy battle the virus

As the COVID-19 outbreak ravages communities in northern Italy, a group of Chinese medical experts arrived in the region last week to advise Italian public health officials.

The spokesman for the Italian Red Cross, Marcello de Angelis, told DW that the Chinese experts have "gained a great deal of experience that Italy urgently needs." Last week, the number of COVID-19 fatalities in Italy surpassed that of China.

"China has had considerable success in fighting the epidemic, and we want to work with Chinese experts on an international level," said de Angelis, adding that the Italian and Chinese Red Cross organizations have a long history of cooperation.

The first team from China arrived on March 12 in Rome with 31 tons of essential supplies and equipment, including respirators, protective suits, masks and medications. The supplies were donated both by the Chinese government and private donors. Another Chinese team flew directly to Milan on March 18.

"There are still people who would like to help Italy," said Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

Sino-European solidarity

China has also helped hard-hit Spain with medical equipment, and assistance is also expected soon to arrive in France. More deliveries to the EU from China, like 2 million protective face masks, are expected to be delivered after talks between EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen und China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

The Europeans provided assistance to the Chinese during the height of the coronavirus outbreak in China, with several EU countries shipping 56 tons of essential equipment.

Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI) in Berlin, said that China is in a good position to help others now that the worst of the coronavirus epidemic in the country appears to be over.

"There is now a lot of extra capacity there available for the rest of the world," said Benner, adding that China also has an obligation to help. "A lot of the blame for the coronavirus spreading with such force can be laid at the feet of the Chinese government," Brenner told DW.

A 'healthy' New Silk Road?

However, there are also concerns among China observers that Beijing now has an opportunity to drive a wedge into the European Union.

Italy is indeed that first country in western Europe that officially joined China's "New Silk Road" global economic and infrastructure project.

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